In the city of Blantyre, Gertrude Gugu Mlanga has risen to stardom with an art idea most artists have neglected for decades. Born 25 years ago, Mlanga is into fashion design.
While copycats are obsessed with fashion made from fabric, the young lady is into ideas that give the slogan ‘art is about creativity’ a concrete meaning.
She trades under a brand name Trashion coined from ‘trash’ and ‘fashion’. Together with her friend, Manota Andrew Mphande, they came up with the idea to keep cities clean by turning waste into fashion.
Mlanga’s products leave you astonished and impressed. Her work does not only stand out for giving waste a second life, but the value it adds to fashion.
“Nothing is a waste until you intentionally decides so,” she says and challenges you that if your yard is full of used materials such as papers and plastic bottles ready for destroying, then you are sitting on gold.
The day she visits your house, keep her on watch as she eyes the calendars hanging on the walls. Those are her raw materials. In a single calendar, Mlanga sees one or two purses.
The calendar is cut into the shape of a purse. She then envelops it with a fabric of your choice. Any additional decorations are made to meet the fashion design of choice.
The purse is sold as an independent product or can be matched with other designs. One of them is an armband made from a plastic bottle and fabric.
Mlanga picks 500 millilitres water bottles, cut them into rings which she wraps in a fabric to create armbands. The fabric is matched with the purse or any other garment.
From dumped aluminium tins, Mlanga produces earrings and other accessories, including interior decors.
We see our women looking good in town with her products, but one can hardly think they are products of waste. That is how Mlanga has distinguished herself as one of Malawi’s pride in fashion designs.
She also paint ceramic pieces and does interior designs.
Mlanga wants to share the skills with fellow youths. We met her recently at John Paul II Leadership and IT Institute in Chilomoni Township during a community girl’s camp doing just that.
She believes the career has a future and says she is looking into sustainable ways of collecting plastics and old papers along Mudi River in Blantyre.
The business is lucrative. Her customer base, made of locals and foreigners, particularly tourists, has been growing since January.
She says: “I make over K350 000 a month.”
Born on December 16 1993, Mlanga is a graduate of Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi. She majored in fine arts.
She worked for two years and quit to follow her dreams of venturing into fashion design.
The Blantyre-based artist reckons that hard work pays and challenges fellow youths to think of entrepreneurship.
“It’s high time the youth explore other ways of making money than waiting to be employed,” she says.
Mlanga traces her beginning from family.
“I was born in a household that encouraged us to be creative and live our dreams,” she says.
But this was not enough. She says Little House on the Prairie, an American children’s pictorial novel, inspired her to be a designer. She says her mother helped her to do simple sewing, and with time, she could sew clothes for dolls.
Mlanga feels accomplished when she sees a customer putting on her products. She, however, laments that many people hardly appreciate art, but says slowly, the story is changing.
Currently, she is on a campaign to popularise her products.
Together with Mphande, they have organised an Art Fair to be held on June 30 at Blantyre hub.
Mphande said they want to educate the society on the best ways of disposing trash and the importance of recycling. They will also teach the patrons how to make bags and jewellery from plastic papers.
“We want to work with fashion designers to encourage them to use recycled products and create goods from waste,” he said in an interview.
Mlanga says she is willing to partner companies and individuals to take the skill to schools in future.
Currently, she is working with volunteer painters, photographers, graphic designers and musicians. She says Trashion has 23 volunteers.